Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned 

Review by Jen

Introduction

I finished GK3 last night, and my mind is still reeling ... oh, where do I start? This is the third in the illustrious series of Gabriel Knight games written by Jane Jensen for various incarnations of Sierra. Some have hailed it as "the game that will save the adventure genre," but I don't think the genre needs saving. If it did need saving, though, GK3 might do it.

Both GK1 and GK2 were among the first (if not the only) adventure games targeted to adults—there are sexual overtones and strong language and they offer rich, complex plots because there was never any attempt to make the stories understandable to children or dummies.

Both of the previous two GK games have supernatural themes—GK1: Sins of the Fathers dealt with voodoo; GK2: The Beast Within, werewolves. GK3 is no exception—this time it is vampires.

Gabriel Knight is a Schattenjäger, which, if memory serves, is German for Shadow Hunter. It is a job he did not want; rather it was forced upon him by his heritage. (The roots of that heritage finally come to light in GK3.) He is aided by Grace Nakimura, his bookstore clerk in GK1 and research assistant in GK2 and GK3. In GK2, the player alternated in the roles of Gabriel and Grace; this element has been carried forward into GK3.

The Story (No Spoilers)

Gabriel is invited to a weekend soiree by Prince James of Scotland's Stewart royal line. Prince James's ancestors have a long history of vampire troubles ("severe anemia"), and Prince James (who now lives in Paris) wants Gabriel to protect his infant son. Gabriel is asleep in the baby's room and wakes up to see the child being carried out through the bedroom window. He gives chase as far as he can, onto a train bound for Rennes-le-Château, a mountain town in the French Alps, where he is cold-cocked. He wakes up in the RLC train station, and the game begins ...

I find myself itching to summarize the whole plot here; however, not only can I not do it without offering up tons of spoilers, but it would take at least 50 pages. The game's story could actually fill a novel very nicely. I will settle for saying that most adventure gamers like games that are long on plot, and GK3 is very long on plot.

The pacing is a little off—some parts are very tedious, giving out the story in dribs and drabs, and then other parts pack in a whole lot of info in a very short time. And yes, the scenarios are improbable, but no more so than any supernatural or horror book. Jane Jensen actually does a great job of tying together various historical and mystical facts and fictions in a plausible manner, but you do have to suspend your disbelief.

Sounds

The voice acting is fantastic in GK3. Some of the accents (notably Tim Curry's as Gabriel) are a little too exaggerated, but they don't really detract from the fact that all of the characters are given full personalities by their voice actors. In particular, the woman who gave voice to Grace did an outstanding job. The music is also wonderful—none of that three-notes-over-and-over-again stuff here. Each location has a different theme, and there is appropriate scary music when a sense of foreboding is warranted. I can't say there was ever any time that I wished I could turn off the music, as is the case with so many games. The sound effects were superb—the designers even thought of the little things, like changing the sounds of the footfalls according to the surface that was being walked upon. I particularly wanted to point out the realism of the "water" sound effect—I had to go to the bathroom a little more than usual whenever I was around a fountain.

Graphics

So far this review has been nothing but glowing praise, but now I come to the graphics. I do not like the appearance of 3D graphics, I do not like it, Sam I am. I have heard GK3's graphics described as "flat," but that's not really the case. What they look like to me is this: someone fashioned a clear plastic model of a person, a building, whatever, and then painted the detail on the inside of the model. For example, a person's head: the mouths and eyes are very expressive, but the eyebrows don't stand up from the rest of the face, and in profile, the open mouths have a solid black wedge in between the teeth instead of open air. There are some positive things, though—the eyes are beautiful, and surfaces like wallpaper, carpet, bricks, etc., are also very lovely. There are also some nice touches of realism—for example, GK3 takes place over three days, and this is the first game I've ever seen where the characters actually change their clothes every morning.

GK3 allows you the choice of using hardware or software rendering for the 3D graphics, so those without a 3D card can still play the game. I don't have a 3D card, but there is an older, underpowered ATI Rage 3D Pro (?—I think I got that right) chip soldered onto my computer's motherboard. If I chose that for the 3D rendering, the textures and fills all looked great, but for some reason plants and fences showed as solid green rectangles. You can see what I mean in some of the screenshots. If I switched to software 3D rendering, the plants and fences looked fine, but the pixels were gigantic. However, hardware/software rendering can be switched on the fly, so I switched to software rendering in those rare instances when I needed to see through a plant or fence. I felt the graphic artists did the best they could with the tools available to them; the end result is just not attractive to me. You know what they say, though, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Interface/Gameplay/Puzzles

GK3's interface is fantastic—although I have seen a lot of complaining about it, I found it very easy to use. Left-clicking on an item brings up your verb choices, and you can control movement and camera angles with holding down the left mouse button and swooping around. The inventory is a little awkward—you must right-click to bring up the "options" screen, then click on the inventory icon, and then choose the item you want to pick up, and then exit the inventory screen, but then the inventory item you chose stays as one of your verbs.

Conversation is mostly automatic—there are no dialogue trees, just icons of what to talk about. Your choices don't change anything except the order of the discussion.

Rennes-le-Château is a big place, in game terms, and when you leave Rennes-le-Château, there are numerous other locations in the surrounding countryside. For me, the traveling got really old, and the loading time between "rooms" is pretty slow. For instance, say you need to find someone to talk to in order to progress the game—you have a pretty good idea of who it is and what you need to talk about, but you have no idea where to find him/her. You set off to find the person, and it can take a good half an hour just to go to all of the locations if you guess isn't lucky. Sometimes the characters do have favorite places; for instance, the Abbe of the local church spends an unholy (I threw that in gratuitously for all you punsters out there) amount of time on top of a tower looking through binoculars, and I quickly learned to look there first when I needed to talk to him.

Another issue with this 3D real-time business that I don't much care for is the fact that I missed certain things by not being in the right place at the right time. I needed about a thousand hints to complete the game, and I would take a hint only to find out about something that I didn't do or see earlier in the game with no way to go back to it. However, there are only certain tasks that must be completed in order to progress through the game, and those will always wait for you. Sometimes you might feel a little clueless as to what's going on, but you can't get irredeemably stuck.

The puzzles were very well integrated into the game. There were one or two unlikely ones, in particular, the one involved in obtaining transportation, but mostly they served well to move the story along. They run the gamut from easy and obvious to next to impossible, but the variety is great. No mazes, no sliding tile puzzles, and only a teensy bit of reflexology near the end of the game. Mostly you don't die, but there are some death traps near the end. However, after you bite the proverbial big one, you get a "retry" button that puts you back at the beginning of the puzzle. This is always a welcome feature to the uncoordinated adventurer such as me.

Conclusion

GK3 is a long, difficult, immersive game with a strong, adult-oriented plot. Even with liberal use of hints, it still took me at least 40 hours to play the game, and I certainly felt like I got my money's worth. I would recommend it heartily and readily to anyone who really wants to sink his or her teeth into a game and be carried away by a computer into another world. This is one series that does not get old—I feel as if I really know the characters, and they have detailed, fully fleshed-out personalities, including human fallibilities and foibles. I find myself already hoping for another installment in the GK series. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Sierra Studios
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Release Date: November 1999

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium 166 with first-generation 3D card with 4 MB+ RAM (PII 266 preferred)
Pentium 233 without 3D card, 32 MB RAM
SVGA at 16-bit high color
Windows-compatible sound card
Second-generation 3D card preferred

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